With a few months before Baroness’s new record Gold and Grey, Cvlt Nation looks back over their long career to piece together how they got to this stage, tracing their sound and art evolution. Here, we go return to Second, their refined but largely-ignored EP that sets the scene for the blistering debut record.
Second is a much more controlled beast to First, and it’s useful to think of them as companion pieces. Fun though it is to see an effervescent, overexcited Baroness, they’ve always been at their peak when they have more structure to their work. Although the three tracks here weave into one another, they all have a much clearer architecture than their previous outing.
Red Sky is a ferocious, riffy intro piece. Immediately, the sections are better defined, short cuts between the wind-down and the snap back into full energy. The ideas build up a lot better too, allowing the guitars to go on weird tangents that aren’t just fairly bog-standard fills of pedal weirdness. There’s also a sharpening of elements like the vocals – which is certainly useful to establish John as the focus. There’s a sense of sounds that haven’t quite been framed like this before, and it’s this sense of freshness that adds so much to Baroness; so often a band would just rely on this to sell themselves, but here it’s a thrilling extra element.
One big impression on re-listening to this is that Baroness are full preparing themselves to make Red. This becomes clear in the build-up intro to Son of Sun. Trading harmonics, missed notes and guitar weirdness with percussive thunder, the track improves on the formless elements of before, allowing plenty of time for the instruments to get wound up in themselves whilst returning to a central theme. Eventually the track bursts into Baizely’s cataclysmic roar, finally as commanding as we expect. Here the track bursts and fizzles into thuds, its energy spent. Here, Baroness sound like Celestial-era Isis, sharing their light/ dark take on song structure. This is especially effective when all the songs follow on from one another, giving the mid-point of the record adequate breathing room.
Closer Vision emerges as swampy before shaping into a twisting, writhing pattern, leaning fully into six-string acrobatics. Here, guitars snarl and hiss, switching from high-pitched noises to deft and tasteful sections. It flirts the most with the formless void, but the personality shines through the most; the overall improvement here is that Baizely’s vibe receives the most polish. It’s this they would come to focus on, and it’s this which marks them out most to this day.
The artwork here is a little closer to what we’re expecting from Baizley; deep purples and mountain-hewed faces (Mads Mikkelsen? Is that you?) set this aside from the rest of their artwork. There’s a lot more detail here, a clear link between the old and the new being the intricate linework, a clear development from First.
So: Second is a little closer to what we expect, still as feral and off-kilter but with more discipline, and a little more heart than before. The EP is filled with cool tidbits and hidden gems, the first real sign of the band crafting their vision for the future. Again, these are begging for a re-issue; they’re certainly a worthy part of Baroness’s back catalogue, an interesting curio for mega-fans and, in their own right, full-throated, weird and ferocious.